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The evolution of DesignSpark serves the needs of engineers with personalised design resources

Author : Mike Bray, RS

27 March 2023

Here, Mike Bray, Vice President of Innovation and DesignSpark at RS, discusses the next phase in the life cycle of DesignSpark, and why the move to a multi-tiered subscription model can benefit all its members in the fast-growing engineering community.

Since its inception more than a decade ago, DesignSpark has offered a suite of design tools, which currently includes DesignSpark Mechanical and DesignSpark PCB. 

These are supplemented by comprehensive 2D/3D and electronics part libraries, and a host of design resources, such as technology articles, projects, community forums and support via its fast-growing and extensive community of engineers. 

But nothing stands still in our industry, with ever-increasing cost and time pressures of getting products to market, and DesignSpark also needs to evolve to serve its members in new ways and even better than before. 

Over the past 12 months, RS has embarked upon some extensive market research across the DesignSpark user base to better understand how its members – now numbering more than one million engineers and designers worldwide – use the platform, and what more could be done to help them solve their design and engineering problems and to be able to move faster and be more agile. 

It became clear to RS that DesignSpark needed to evolve to offer different levels of capabilities and resources to a highly diverse engineering universe, in terms of requirements – from students and hobbyists to super makers to professional design engineers in companies of all sizes and industries.

Earlier this year, RS announced a new vision for DesignSpark and the start of the next phase in its lifecycle. The new DesignSpark 2.0 retains at its heart a free experience, as well as introducing a new subscription-based model. 

RS’s membership now has three levels, respectively called: ‘Explorer’, ‘Creator’ and ‘Engineer’. The company believes that this approach provides members with an enhanced and increasingly personalised experience and enables them to select their own level of access, according to their requirements for design tools and resources. This offers individuals and businesses a solution that puts them in control of what and when they need to use a higher level of capability.

Looking at the options in more detail, Explorer is the entirely free version of the platform, which is most likely to suit students, makers, and designers. It delivers a comprehensive suite of tools with extensive capabilities and enables members to retain the same community access, tools and design resources that they have always enjoyed – completely free. This enables them quickly to make the leap from concept to prototype. 

Explorer includes DesignSpark PCB, the rapid prototyping tool for circuit design. This allows schematics to be created, transferred to a PCB layout and prepared for production, and backed by pre-built component libraries and tools to ensure error-free PCBs. 

Then there’s DesignSpark Mechanical, a direct modeller that requires no prior experience with 3D CAD software and enables users to freely create and modify geometry. 

Explorer-level members also have access to more than 100 million 3D models and 2D symbols for circuit design, and the ability to perform searches on one billion parts, accessing data sheets and part lifecycle status information alongside community content, skills and training resources.

Creator and Engineer
Moving to the next level – and for those users looking for even more advanced tools and resources such as pro-makers, start-ups and SMEs – further DesignSpark options are available featuring tools with enhanced features. 

Creator offers the same tools and resources available in Explorer, but also provides an enhanced version of DesignSpark Mechanical. This includes a 3D Mirror tool and detailing tools to annotate parts and create manufacturing drawings, and enhanced part libraries that provide further intelligence on component capabilities and status. Creator-level members also have access to more advanced skills, training and content on DesignSpark.

Engineer is for the most demanding users, such as professional-level design engineers and OEMs. Engineer offers the same enhanced features of DesignSpark Mechanical available in Creator. It expands significantly on DesignSpark PCB, with a new advanced feature set, including the use of blind and buried vias for high-density PCB design, custom pad shapes, differential pair routing for high-speed signals, a panels editor, and hierarchical schematic block capability. 

As with the Creator tier, Engineer subscribers have access to complimentary skills, training and content on DesignSpark.

RS believes that the full suite of capabilities available to paying subscribers is typically worth in the region of £1,000. But, through this subscription model, RS is offering this at an entry price level equivalent to the monthly subscription one might pay to a home entertainment TV streaming platform. 

As part of the transition to the new model, a free trial period allowed members to try out the Creator and Engineer packages with their enhanced or fully featured versions of the DesignSpark tools, enabling them to assess these additional capabilities and providing them with the opportunity to decide which option best suited their needs. 

RS has anticipated that most members will only require Explorer. But DesignSpark has a large universe of users, and the company is already seeing many looking at the proposition and deciding the more advanced tools are what they need. And importantly, they are available at a fraction of the cost traditionally associated with tools that deliver these kinds of features and capabilities. 

Although RS is still in the early stages of this platform evolution, early feedback from members has given some weight to these expectations. For example, a sizeable number of users from different regions across the world have already elected to gain access to the more advanced tools available in the Creator and Engineer options. 

Other feedback – especially from hobbyists and makers – has been perfectly in line with RS’s expectations that Explorer will suffice for their needs most of the time. 

However, they have a great deal of interest in the more advanced tools, though they do not necessarily require access to them every day. And this raises a very important point that addresses this issue directly: users will have the flexibility to move between different subscription options. For example, a user may require the more advanced tooling available with Engineer during key design phases of a project. But this requirement may only last a period of a few months, after which time, they have the flexibility to step down their requirements to Creator or Explorer.

A key aspect of the new model is that RS can reinvest this subscription revenue stream in upgrading the tools and at all levels, which means all members will benefit. RS is looking at further improving the parts library in the very near future, which is just one example of how the company is looking to bring increased resources to all the members. 

Activist Engineering
There is another important aspect to mention in the DesignSpark story and its development. At its essence, collaborative responsible engineering is its purpose, and it aims to be an enabler of what RS is calling the ‘activist engineering paradigm’. 

Much of the ‘raison d’être’ of DesignSpark is to help engineers on their journey to become more aware of the difference they can make in sustainable and responsible activism in engineering. And this means looking at how engineers can help make a difference to individuals, groups, businesses, society and our planet in general. 

There are some key DesignSpark projects that exemplify this mission, such as The Washing Machine Project or the air-quality projects. Beyond this, RS is also looking at how RS and DesignSpark can help engineers to design and make more sustainable products that last longer and are more repairable. This also aligns with the ESG (Environmental, Societal and Governance) RS strategy, which is a key plank in the way RS wants to do business.

DesignSpark Explorer, Creator and Engineer and details on subscription pricing are available here. The DesignSpark tools are supported by the DesignSpark software team and by the online DesignSpark engineering community.

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